ULI JON ROTH (Live at the O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., December 19, 2017)
Photo: Mick Burgess

It’s almost four decades since the release of Tokyo Tapes, the classic live double from the Scorpions. Former lead guitarist, Uli Jon Roth is back in the UK to perform music that he recorded with the Scorpions in the ’70s. Mick Burgess called Uli ahead of the tour to talk about his days in the Scorpions and his plans for a new Electric Sun album.

You’re over in the UK on a 14 date UK tour. Are you pleased to be playing over here again??

I always enjoy playing in the UK. It’s always been a very good place for me to play live and the audiences are so receptive. The shows in the UK are always ones that I look forward to.

It’s good to see you back in Newcastle on 19th December. You played one of your legendary shows at Newcastle City Hall in 1983. What do you remember of that show?

Newcastle has always been one of my favourite stomping grounds. I released my 1983 show from the City Hall on the Historic Performances DVD a while back. I always remember that show because in the early ’80s I’d stopped touring and there were two girls in Newcastle who raised a petition with 600 signatures for me to come and play in Newcastle and that was one of the main reasons why I came to Newcastle back then. That was a great show and I’ve loved playing in Newcastle ever since. That was the first time anyone had done anything like that for me and it seemed a crazy idea but it worked. It’s a show I’ll never forget as we were at one with the audience that night. Newcastle City Hall is one of my favourite venues in the UK.

In the past you’ve had the likes of Clive Bunker from Jethro Tull, John Young, Michael Fleixig and Nicky Moore in your band. Who is touring with you at the moment?

I have two touring bands at the moment and this time I’ve got a lot of my English band with me that includes Niklaus Thurman on vocals, Ali Clinton guitar and vocals, Paul Rahme on keyboards and vocals and Richard Kirk is our drummer.

Is this tour a continuation of your Tokyo Tapes Revisited set?

This is the last leg of the tour where I’ll be playing music from my Scorpions days. Next year is a different ball game. I’ve been doing this for sometime now and I’m wrapping that up on this tour. People keep requesting us to do it so I’m sure we will do it again some time.

Will this be a set based purely on your time in the Scorpions or will you be able to slip some Electric Sun material in there too?

Not on this tour. I’ll be concentrating on the Scorpions and maybe I’ll do a little bit of Hendrix. The audience really seem to love it and I really enjoy playing it.

Did you ever think that the records that you made back then with the Scorpions would still be so highly thought of 40 years later?

I find it amazing and it’s really nice to see that. I started in the Scorpions when I was still in my teens. We must have done something right without knowing it. We didn’t write stuff thinking that people would be listening to it years later. We just did our best at that time and somehow it worked. I think some of the songs have matured like a fine wine in the eyes of the audience as people grew up with that stuff and it seems to mean more to them when they hear them now. It seems to reach deeper now when we play In Trance or The Sails of Charon.

Do you feel that a song like Fly To The Rainbow really let you explore different sides to your creativity?

That song is a bit like a mystery box. When you play it, you’re never quite sure what will come out. It has a lot of improvisation to it but it’s also well structured. It’s very early Scorpions that was a precursor for a lot of what I was trying to do later on. Somehow it’s stood the test of time and has reinvented itself and it’s always a big highlight in our set.

You were very prolific back then releasing 5 albums in 5 years with the Scorpions. What was that down to?

I think it’s because we were touring a lot and we tried out a lot of ideas when we were on the road. The songs weren’t that complex to write or record and a lot of them were very spontaneous and quickly done. The Fly To The Rainbow album only took a week to record. It would be unthinkable to me now to record an album in a week but back then that’s how we did it and it worked. I didn’t think it was perfect at the time and I would have liked more time. I think the next album we had twice as much time and still didn’t think it was enough but that album, In Trance, made a good impression in the UK. They were different times.

You left the Scorpions in 1978 before the legendary live album Tokyo Tapes was released. Why did you choose that time to leave?

I was very happy in the Scorpions but towards the end was writing music that would not fit into their framework. I still wrote songs for the Scorpions but over 50% of what I was writing I didn’t even bring to the table as it wasn’t suitable for them. I was more into the spiritual side of things rather than trying to sell as many albums as possible. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as everyone enjoys success but I didn’t want it at any price, I wanted to be free. Electric Sun was quite successful in its own right but it was infinitely less commercial than the Scorpions.

Did you stay in touch with Klaus and Rudolph throughout the 80s and 90s?

There were never any bad vibes between us but initially everyone went their separate ways. Afterwards we started bumping into each other and it was always great to see them. It’s as if nothing had ever changed. The vibe in the band was always very healthy and we never had any arguments. There were a few artistic disagreements but they were just minor. We chose the songs that were best for the album and we were usually always in agreement.

It’s been a few years since your last album, Under A Dark Sky, which was released in 2008. Do you have any plans to record a follow up?

I have started recording songs for my new album but it takes me a long time to record these days so I don’t really have a release date yet but I hope it’ll be out sometime next year but so far everything is sounding really good so I’m really excited about it.

As well as your performing you have also designed your own guitar which you have called the Sky guitar. Did you initially do this as you felt that there were limitations to the traditional guitar?

I found that there were limitations with the standard electric guitar and it was mainly in terms of range. I wanted to be able to play higher than I could on a traditional guitar and really that’s how the Sky guitar was designed. That was designed 100% to my specific specification. It’s a dream instrument to me. I still love my Stratocaster but don’t think I’ll play it again as the Sky guitar can do everything the Stratocaster can and a lot more besides. For me it would be a step back. To me it’s the best. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but to me. It’s like a Formula One racing car that has a lot of power and flexibility.

When your UK shows end on 21st December, is that it for this year?

That’s it for this year and I’ll use the time off for creative purposes and will do some more writing. I enjoy being on tour and being at home being creative.

What about next year. What do you have lined up for 2018?

2018 will be crazy. I’ll be doing the G3 tour with John Petrucci from Dream Theater and Joe Satriani and I’m looking forward to that. We’ll each get to play our own set and then we’ll do some jamming together at the end. I’ve done something similar in 1998 with Joe Satriani and Michael Schenker and enjoyed it very much. Then I have a few months in America doing what I call the Triple Anniversary Programme which includes an entire Electric Sun set and a set of Scorpions songs. Next year I celebrate 3 anniversaries including the 50th anniversary of my first ever show in 1968, then it’s 40 years of Tokyo Tapes and 40 years of recording the first Electric Sun album in the winter of 1978. I’ll also do some anniversary shows in Japan and I’ll also be coming back to the UK for Electric Sun reborn and we will definitely be making a stop in Newcastle.

Uli Jon Roth is on tour in the UK now. See ulijonroth.com for details and tickets.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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